Ram Mohan: At Afilias, the company itself what it does is manage large domain name registries. It’s a domain name registry provider. But our interaction and my interaction has been specifically with .org. Lynn St. Amour and I were part of a team that helped make the case several years ago, almost a decade ago, to go and say that .org’s home ought to be the Internet Society, and we helped create Public Interest Registry to really build a top-level domain registry that ran in an exemplary manner that hewed to the values of the organization, but at the same time technically ran a very competent and advanced technical group at the same time.
So that’s kind of how I got seriously involved. But as time has gone on, the evolution of that role has been really interesting. Ended up beginning as a technologist, but really moved far more into thinking about where’s the Internet going; what is at the core of the Internet; how do you make the core of the Internet a better and a stronger place. And that’s been the primary focus for me for the last few years.
Intertitle: Describe one of the breakthrough moments or movements of the Internet in which you have been a key participant.
Mohan: In 2005, we had a time where for a few days we were under such sustained attack that literally every single .org web site, every single .org domain name in the world could have been in trouble—pretty big trouble. And potentially every single .org property in the world—domain name, email—coulda gone dark. That was a pretty hairy time. Going and solving that problem took a lot of effort and a lot of dedication from lots of people. So that was a very interesting time. Probably the most fun time? was April Fool’s Day in 2005, where I pulled together a group of four guys and we ended up pulling a prank on a whole bunch of folks and we ended up saying, “Oh my god, the entire system is down and is gonna stay down. It’s not coming up.”
And we convened a big management meeting. You know, everybody who was paid to be worried about it was on a phone—it was in a big global conference call. And I was explaining the problem. My job was to explain the problem and I was saying you know, “We don’t know what’s going on. Our systems are just coming up and then they’re going down every three or four minutes. And we’re working on finding the real reason why. And we finally found the answer to it, and it was because a flux capacitor is dying,” right. And for anybody who watched Back to the Future, they knew what it meant but it took a few minutes for people to get oh, the flux capacitor is dying? So, yeah, a fun time.
Intertitle: Describe the state of the Internet today with a weather analogy and explain why.
Mohan: Sunny. It’s in a great place. It’s got a tremendous future. There are always clouds on the horizon. But I’m the kinda guy who looks at the clouds and says, “Okay, there might be rain but the sun’s still gonna come out. It’s still gonna happen.” Look, the foundation of what we’ve built here on the Internet is a pretty strong thing. It’s a distributed system. No one runs the Internet. No one owns the Internet. It works well. There’s always some set of folks who want to control it. There’s always some sort of folks who want to change how it’s running. That’s not by itself such a bad thing. There are some big fights coming on who controls the Internet, what’s the future of the Internet. And heck, we’re gonna be here pushing back on those who say we have to centralize everything, it has to be run by whatever, three people or twenty governments. It’s not how we work. It’s not how it’s been working.
Now, I think it’s a fun place to be in terms of the governance of the Internet and where the Internet is going, how it’s run. Because you have this really neat combination of folks in universities and academia. You have private industry and you have governments. Plus all the other folks—civil society, Internet providers, intellectual property people—there’s a whole bunch of different folks, but we’ve built a model that you know, we are calling multistakeholderism, etc. But fundamentally what it means is that if you care, you get the opportunity to change the future, to shift it, right. And that is a completely different model than almost any other technology or any other innovation in human history has managed to do. To not only attempt to be a democratic system, but to build mechanisms that allow for literally anybody who has an opinion, that makes sense, to actually come through and be able to exert influence. That’s fabulous.
Intertitle: What are your greatest hopes and fears for the future of the Internet?
Mohan: The hope is that the core of the Internet stays strong, and cohesive. There is a continual challenge there. To some extent you have entropy at work there, right. There’s always this… So, to restate in a different way, keeping cohesion at the core of the Internet is an important thing. I’m not worried that that’s going to go away. But you have to continually pay attention to it. Because that function of converging, at the core is a critical one. When you do that well, what it allows is at the edges of the Internet it allows for things to happen. For innovation, for ideas to happen, right. Facebook didn’t have to go and ask any government for permission to start up Facebook. Twitter didn’t have to do that. But any of the major inventions and the major job creators, economy creators, things that change how the economy works, things that change how we as human beings interact with each other, on the Internet you generally don’t need to ask permission. I think that’s a great place to be. And that allows for massive disruption. So, preserving that model I think is important. And I therefore always pay attention and I worry when you have forces that try to impinge on that, try to change it. So my hope for the Internet is that it stays strong, and solid at the core. That the folks who are involved in it understand that necessarily by choice, it should be a…a small core, not a very big core, right. And that you allow the edges to just grow. And you don’t try to control those edges. You try to control the core.
Intertitle: Is there action that should be taken to ensure the best possible future?
Mohan: I would not say that there is one single action to take. You have to pay continued attention. You have to keep getting generations involved to care about why these things are important, right. You run the risk that— I think you see in the utilities area where at the core of it, most of us don’t care how we get our electricity. We turn on the switch and we expect the lights to just go on, right. We’re getting close to that point on the Internet. We get our device out and we expect the Internet to be there. And it’s important to keep enough people engaged in understanding how it gets there. And that’s actually a pretty special thing, how it works and to ensure that that continues.
Intertitle: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Mohan: You know, the Internet and working in technology is just a joyride. It can be a bit of a roller coaster at times, but it’s a fun place to be. And anybody who is interested in massive intellectual challenge and potentially down the road to actually make money as well, it’s an awesome place to be. So you know, it’s a great life if you manage to get something that’s on the Internet and that is meaningful on the Internet.